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Fast Past

One of the nicest Bee-Ems you'll ever see.

by Julian Edgar

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This article was first published in 2002.
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"It was my wife's car," says Jason of what was originally a grey 1993 BMW 320i, "and it came in with an overheating problem - a blown hose I think."

Now while Jason's not in the habit of pulling out engines with minor problems and whacking in whole new ones, in this case there was a bit more incentive. Cos he'd been thinking about this swap for a long time, you see...

"I had a BMW convertible, and I wanted to put a Lexus V8 in it," he says. "I phoned some people and they said that the chassis would twist, so when we had another baby - we've got two kids - I went for the four-door. I let her drive it for a while - and then it started to get hot. I knew I wanted to do the swap, so I just went 'That's it - done!'"

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"It took three months, start to finish - done by myself and my mechanic."

Jason is manager of Brisbane's First One Imports, and mechanic - Harry - is obviously a whiz at engine bay conversions. Despite the relatively petite 3-series usually being home to an in-line six cylinder engine, the ex-Crown Lexus 1UZ-FE V8 actually fitted in between the strut towers and the chassis rails without too many problems. The biggest squeeze was the steering, but even then it was a case of carefully building the new exhaust extractors around the standard BMW steering shaft, rather than mechanically altering the steering.

"That was our biggest problem of the whole conversion," says Jason. "Getting the height of the motor just right."

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"The sump's all modified - custom, actually. The hump had to be at the back, then Harry modified the oil pick-up - extended it right to the back. It uses a remote oil filter off a small block Chevy. It would have been a lot easier if we'd started with a Soarer V8."

So the whole Crown driveline is in the car - gearbox and all?

"We had it all mounted up with the Crown gearbox," reminiscences Harry. "It all bolted-up spot on - but then we looked at the writing loom. Two computers..." He shakes his head - sorting the factory wiring was obviously an unachievable nightmare, especially in the specified 3-month timeframe.

"Now it's got a Turbo 700 with a Lexus bellhousing," said Jason "You can't get a computer that'll run an automatic gearbox, so we got rid of all the factory computers and replaced them with EMS. But EMS won't run a gearbox..."

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A local company took on the role of adapting the gearbox to the V8. From the cabin you'd never guess that there's something non-BMW under the trans tunnel - the Turbo 700 is operated by the factory BMW shifter. One other aspect making the use of the gearbox easier was that BMW apparently run their speedo sensor from the diff, rather than the gearbox. Fronting the gearbox is a 3000 rpm stall converter. And the tailshaft? - it's a Harry-job.

"It uses the front yoke from a Camaro," he said. Added Jason, "The Camaro shaft fitted over the BMW shaft perfectly - so Harry welded them up and then it needed just a little bit of a balance. And I don't think we'll ever get a problem out of the BMW diff."

Of course, in any modern car engine swap there's sure to be lots of little fiddly bits. But in the case of this swap, most were pretty straightforward. Take the power steering. "It uses the standard Lexus pump," says Harry. "The first foot of the hose is Lexus, and the rest is BMW. The steering's fine - not too heavy and not too light."

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So how well does the combo go? Performance figures aren't available but the car's spent plenty of time on the dyno.

"We've hit 230 kilowatts at the wheels, but we're still playing around with it. I am still not happy with it - it does everything right on the road but I want it to get to the 300 kilowatts, but that's down the track."

The dyno in question is a lossy Dyno Dynamics design, where typically there's a 30 per cent power loss between the treads and the flywheel. Since the engine is internally dead-standard, the extra power comes from only the free-flow intake (no airflow meter now), mandrel extractors (1 7/8 primaries into twin 2¼ pipes) and very free-flow exhaust (twin input single cat and 3-inch outlet, flowing onto the twin Magnaflow mufflers), and revised engine management parameters. And it sounds like no other Lexus V8 you've ever heard - a menacing but still sweet growl coming from the four up-turned tailpipes.

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There're also plenty of sounds within the cabin - and moving pictures too. Twin Viscom 5-inch LCD monitors are mounted in the back of the front head restraints, with these driven by a Digi Red DVDMP3 player. Not quite hiding from view inside boot is a Rockford Fosgate 400-4 Punch amp, and this powers two 12-inch Rockford Fosgate subs (mounted in an enclosure at the leading edge of the boot) and front Infinity splits and rear 6-inch infinity speakers. The front splits have a bit of a story about them - before a show Jason was trying to find some surrounds that would look the goods on the newly re-trimmed front door panels. He was tearing his hair out until he walked into a local auto-parts store and realised that just the right things were being sold as steering wheel centre trim rings! Weird as that sounds, they look great against the black and pale green leather.

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Green's the colour outside as well, but it's a subtle and light Porsche green - nothing like an old delivery van colour... Other exterior mods include those incredible taillights (bought privately on the Web), M-series side trim moulds, and a Zender body kit. Oh yes, and mesh in the foglight apertures, white side indicators, headlight eyebrows, a Momo wheel re-trimmed to suit - the closer you look the more that you'll find. Attention to detail includes sourcing new rubbers and door handles, a new grille, and white-faced instruments that light up green to match the rest of the interior décor.

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The suspension uses Koni adjustable dampers and super-low H&R springs from Germany. Wheels are chrome-look 18-inch with 235/40 fronts and huge 265/35 rears. Brakes have been upgraded with drilled discs - although they do look a bit inadequate considering the power lift...

Jason runs the engine to 7000 rpm, but the needle on the BMW tacho goes a lot further than that. In fact "the needle fell off the tacho!" he says. "It wasn't calibrated and I went braaaaap" - he makes a fast car movement - "and the needle went right around then fell off. It gets fixed tomorrow."

But getting the tach to read right with the eight cylinder is only one of the many details that's been optimised with this unique car - it's one helluva package.

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